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The initial stages of human embryogenesis.

Under ontogeny or ontogeny ( ancient Greek ὀντογένεση ontogenesis ; compound from ancient Greek ὄν on , German , beings' and ancient Greek γένεσις génesis , German 'birth' , 'Origin') is the development of a single system or a single organism understood in contrast to phylogeny ( Phylogenesis ). The temporal course of individual development is also called development history . This describes the individual stages of development, beginning with the development of the germs to the fully developed organism in the adult stage, and also includes the stages of age-related regression. The two terms go back to Ernst Haeckel (1866), who had already dealt with the teachings of Charles Darwin a few years before the publication of his book and included them in his work.

Multi-cell and single-cell

Individual development begins with the Metazoa , to which humans also belong, with the fertilized egg cell and ends with death. A special question arises for the development of other living beings , especially unicellular organisms , cf. the systematics of biology . The previous division into Metazoa and Protozoa is outdated today, it has been replaced by new divisions (→ Reiche ). As a rule, single-celled organisms can reproduce indefinitely. Since the mother cell breaks up in the daughter cells during cell division , no mortal parent organism remains. That is why protozoa have potential immortality . In organisms that are on the threshold from being single to multicellular (see Volvox ), the individual life cycle ends with death. Ernst Haeckel did not speak of multicellular organisms, but of the development history of organic individuals (1906, p. 165). In Haeckel's scientific understanding, ontogenesis does not mean the origin of life in general, as the meaning of the word might suggest. Rather, the term refers to already existing life (single-cell organisms as the minimum stage of development). The first scientific and ontogenetic experiments were therefore in 1888 by Wilhelm Roux of frog eggs in the two-cell cleavage stage performed.


Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) also founded philosophy on the principle of development. Haeckel summarized his teaching as monism . For him there is no a priori knowledge, only abilities that have become constitutional through the experience of previous generations . The monism should, however, especially contribute to a better understanding of ontogeny. In the development processes shown, which Haeckel gained in a comparative and “genetic” way, he recognized a general principle of life. Haeckel did not understand “genetic” in the sense of Mendel's rules , although Gregor Mendel as the “father of genetics ” published his results in the same year (1866) as did Haeckel his “general morphology”. Haeckel understood by “genetic” rather the general laws and knowledge that can be inductively “deduced” from the comparative compilation of many individual experiences , hence the title of his book General Morphology . He gained this knowledge on the basis of biologically related and thus similar observation material. With August Schleicher he discussed analogies in linguistics that he had found in his comparative language studies. Haeckel was convinced that his “laws” could be transferred or generalized not only to plants and animals, but also to humans and the human soul (1909, pp. 27-29). This view was taken up, for example, by Konrad Lorenz (1903–1989), cf. Cape. Reception .

If, viewed from the point of view of the word, “ontogenesis” is understood to mean the establishment of a relationship between being and time , then one might be wrong. a. also reminds of Martin Heidegger's fundamental ontology and his turn to metaphysics as a basic science. If development is equated with creation , the idea of epigenesis also arises .


Gestalt psychology

According to the comprehensive claim to validity of Haeckel's doctrine (materialistic monism ), u. a. the Gestalt psychology is concerned with the principle of development. Here, it was assumed that by differentiation to a specialization comes to the separation of more diffuse sub-functions and centralization to a reorganization and unification of formative decisive organization of assembly and dismantling. Instead of a monism, Gestalt psychology has advocated the unifying concept of the field .


The psychoanalysis founded by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) is understandably open to the idea of ​​development for reasons of contemporary history. From 1874 Freud was busy with scientific work. After his first zoological work with Carl Claus in 1876 , Freud received his doctorate under the direction of Ernst Wilhelm Brücke at the Physiological Institute in Vienna with a neurophysiological thesis. Freud writes about his education and his relationship to the profession of doctor:

“Rather, I was moved by a kind of curiosity that was more related to human relationships than to natural objects and had also failed to recognize the value of observation as one of the main means of satisfaction [...]. The then current teaching of Darwin attracted me powerfully because it promised an extraordinary advancement of the understanding of the world [...]. "

- Sigmund Freud : self-expression .

Freud himself worked out four characteristic phases for the individual development of every human being as an individual. They are part of his doctrine of infantile sexuality .

Granville Stanley Hall (1846–1924) was one of the first psychologists to recognize psychoanalysis as a scientific research program. The basic psychogenetic law was described by him in 1904. He was referring to Ernst Haeckel's basic biogenetic law. While Haeckel refers to the biological tribal history, Hall refers to the ethnology ( ethnology ). Hall was a student of Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920), who had already written works on the psychology of nations .

Analytical psychology

Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) used the term "ontogenetic" to illustrate the collective psyche. He saw the unconscious not only as a product of the mechanisms of repression , but also as a creative entity. If one assumes that the development of the brains in mankind has reached a certain average degree of differentiation, this can not only be regarded as a result of ontogeny, but must also be regarded as a result of phylogeny . These are stages of development that are collectively common to humanity. The external similarity of the brains as organs suggests this assumption. The collective psyche thus represents the fixed, so to speak automatically running, inherited and supra-personal part of the individual soul. It is what Pierre Janet (1859–1947) presented as the "lower parts" ( parties inférieures ) of the psychic functions. The upper parts of the mental functions ( parties supérieures ) are perceived by the consciousness and the personal unconscious.

However, Jung also tried to grasp the methodological differences between different directions of psychotherapy and at the same time their similarities. Especially during the time of the Third Reich and the political exclusion of psychoanalysis , he felt compelled to do so. It helped him that he had been a member of the board of the Swiss group of the International General Medical Society for Psychotherapy since 1934. In his welcoming address to the 10th International Medical Congress for Psychotherapy in Oxford in 1938, Jung announced that the Swiss committee of the association was trying to establish all the points on which all psychotherapists who work according to the guidelines of psychological analysis agree. According to the Zentralblatt des Verbandes 1933, these points included: 1. medical procedure, 2. psychogenesis , 3. diagnosis , 4. exploration , 5. material (linguistic and non-linguistic forms of expression), 6. etiology , 7. the unconscious , 8. fixation , 9. Awareness, 10. Analysis and interpretation , 11. Transfer , 12. Ontogenetic reduction, 13. Phylogenetic reduction, 14. Therapy.

The ontogenetic reduction as a tracing back of well-being to events in the history of the past is thus highlighted as an important method of psychotherapy. Regarding the methodological differences, reference is made to the reductionism of psychoanalysis described by Jung , which was supplemented by Jung's synthetic approaches (cf. also → Interpretation at the object level ).

Developmental biology

In developmental biology and medicine , ontogeny is understood to mean the development of the individual living being from the fertilized egg cell to the adult living being (according to Ernst Haeckel 1866). This definition in a narrower sense is contained in a broader assumption by Ernst Hackel, the basic biogenetic rule . This states that "ontogeny is a recapitulation of phylogeny ". This means that in the development of the individual being, stages are passed which correspond to the corresponding stages of development of its tribal development. So the development of a person (the incarnation ) takes z. B. their exit from the fertilized egg cell ( zygote ). From this point of view, the egg cell, the sperm and the zygote are unicellular organisms that correspond to the phylogenetic development stages of unicellular organisms . In the ascending series of developments, there are many similarities in the individual development with the higher development of the animal phyla up to the vertebrates , mammals , primates . This series of developments is therefore passed through by every individual. In its general form, Haeckel's theory also includes the ethnological development, as expressed, for example, in evolutionist views of history at the time of colonization in England in the early 19th century. Today this theory is only partially valid. In general, ontogenesis in developmental biology can be understood as the history of the structural change of a biological unit, see above (e.g. organogenesis ).


In the embryo , totipotent cells differentiate into various specialized cell types . These each form tissue for certain organ structures from which the organs arise.


The biological ontogeny of a multicellular organism can be divided into phases procreationBlastogeneseembryogenesisFetogeneseBirthinfant phase → toddler phase → Juvenil stadium → pubescenceadolescencemenopausesenescencedeath divide.


During Haeckel's lifetime

Even during Haeckel's lifetime, the reception of his work was contested for a long time after he initially kept silent about his theses (1906, foreword p. III). Haeckel himself attributed this in part to his own mainly speculative considerations. He therefore decided to different editions of his teachings that were more popular science, such as his natural history of creation (1868). This reached a total of 10 editions by 1902. Haeckel turned against the, in his opinion, often unreflected application of his research results, since the synthetic relationship between natural science and philosophy was important to him and a one-sided descriptive attitude of the scientist seemed rather questionable. He also referred to Johannes Müller (1906, p. 11). Haeckel felt that his principles were faithfully received by Karl Ernst von Baer (1792–1876) and Matthias Jacob Schleiden (1804–1881). Apparently, however, he could also refer to her previous work, e.g. B. on Schleiden on questions of methodology (1906, p. 30). Today the concept of development used by Haeckel has been redefined by developmental biology.

Posthumous reception

Konrad Lorenz (1903–1989) tackled the investigation of a comparative psychology called for by Haeckel using animal series, see Chap. Philosophy . The term ontology is used in the work cited here without express reference to Haeckel's work. Lorenz differed based on Heinrich Ernst Ziegler (1858-1925) the innate instinctive behavior of animals of acquired behaviors such as dressage performances and intellectual proper actions. According to Lorenz, these determinations of a later behavior of animals through external influences (mainly on the part of the conspecifics at a very specific point in time during ontogenesis) bring the development processes of instinctual behavior into an analogy from the physical development theory. This analogy is known in genetics as induction . Lorenz refers to Hans Spemann (1869–1941). Spemann is known for attempts to transplant ectoderm cells, which developed into a piece of the spinal cord while otherwise they would have become a piece of abdominal skin. However, a re-transplant did not cause a new induction, since the tissue had meanwhile been determined. A monster then developed. Lorenz points out that it is a widespread opinion among biologists and psychologists to view drive actions or instinct-controlled behavior as a precursor of what we see as learned or intellectual.


Theological, philosophical, sociological and biological point of view, Haeckel's theory aroused criticism. Above all, there are creationist and epigenetic views. Erich Blechschmidt is regarded as a representative of creationism . There were philosophical-historical and purely logical objections to the concept of development. The sociologist Reimer Gronemeyer points to the critics Otto Rank and Pierre P. Grassé. Their criticism is directed against the basic market economy assumptions during the lifetime of Charles Darwin (1809–1882) and their unscrupulous transfer to biology. The natural selection had been confused with the artificial. In England since 1750 there had been experiments with artificial selection in the livestock industry. The one-sided goal was the ruthless increase in earnings. However, such a motive cannot be attributed to nature. On the other hand, thoughts of the survival of the fittest were already expressed by Empedocles (approx. 483–424 BC). It was controversial whether the development of biodiversity in nature was aimed at a goal. Science cannot answer teleological questions. Ontogeny describes how different stages of development emerge from one another, but not always without a doubt why. The same then applies to the phylogenetic diversity of species. Further critical objections are directed against the demonstrable existence of intermediate links in development. So z. B. Archeopteryx are not considered to be the link between reptiles and birds , since both lived at the same time. Another critical objection to the theory of selection is that species with less organized characteristics still survive today, although they must be inferior through the struggle for existence . However, this objection was due to a poor understanding of Darwin's theory, because Darwin himself already developed the theory of adaptive radiation , through which a permanent coexistence of differently equipped living beings becomes understandable.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Ontogenesis  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Ernst Haeckel  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Ontogeny. In: Norbert Boss (Ed.): Roche Lexicon Medicine. 2nd Edition. Urban & Schwarzenberg, Munich 1987, ISBN 3-541-13191-8 , p. 1273 ( Gesundheit.de/roche ).
  2. a b ontogeneticus, ontogenesis. In: Hermann Triepel , edited by Robert Herrlinger : The anatomical names. Your derivation and pronunciation. 26th edition. Published by JF Bergmann, Munich 1962, p. 51.
  3. a b Ontogeny, Ontogenesis. In: Herbert Volkmann (Ed.): Guttmanns Medical Terminology. Derivation and explanation of the most common technical terms of all branches of medicine and their auxiliary sciences. Urban & Schwarzenberg, Berlin 1939, column 682.
  4. ^ Ontogeny, ontogeny. In: Willibald Pschyrembel : Pschyrembel. Clinical Dictionary. 154-184. Edition. Walter de Gruyter & Co., Berlin 1964, p. 629.
  5. a b Ontogenesis. In: Helmut Ferner : Human development history. 7th edition. Reinhardt, Munich 1965, p. 12.
  6. a b ontogenetic. In: Georgi Schischkoff (Hrsg.): Philosophical dictionary. 21st edition. Alfred-Kröner, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-520-01321-5 , p. 503. (on the Lemma “Haeckel, Ernst”, p. 254).
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  10. ^ Wilhelm Roux : after: Dietrich Starck : Embryologie . Stuttgart: Thieme-Verlag 1955.
  11. Friedrich Vogel : General human genetics . Springer, Berlin 1961; P. 232.
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  13. Martin Heidegger : Being and time . 1926, Max Niemeyer-Verlag, Tübingen 15 1979, ISBN 3-484-70122-6 .
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